In recent years a movement has been growing among Christians to adopt a vegetarian diet. Some have gone so far as to claim that Scripture mandates this type of diet. What does the Bible really say about this issue?
According to Genesis 1:29–30, at the end of the sixth day of Creation Week, God gave Adam and Eve and the animals permission to eat plants. It was not until after the Flood that man was given permission to eat meat. Although we do not know what sinful man chose to eat before the Flood, God did not give His permission to eat animal flesh until after the Flood, as recorded in Genesis 9:3.
Some people attribute the extremely long lifespans in the pre-Flood world to the vegetarian diet God had prescribed, and they further attribute the sharp decline in lifespan after the Flood to the introduction of meat into the diet. They often claim that God’s permission to eat meat in Genesis 9:3 was necessary due to the lack of available plants after the Flood. However, other factors may explain the drop in lifespan.1 Furthermore, if a return to vegetarianism were really God’s desire for man, then why did God not reinstitute a meat-free diet when plants were more available in later years?
God has not rescinded His Genesis 9:3 permission to eat meat. Moreover, the ceremonial laws given to Moses in Leviticus confirmed the Creator’s continuing permission for man to eat meat. These laws contain a list of clean animals Israelites were allowed to eat and unclean animals that were not to be eaten. These restrictions included the admonition not to ingest certain types of fats.
Lastly, the life of Jesus shows that ongoing vegetarianism was not mandatory. Jesus assisted the disciples in catching fish in their nets, presumably to be eaten. Jesus Himself ate fish and cooked it for His disciples (John 21:9). Why would our Savior act in a manner contrary to that which He set forth for us?
So are we then to conclude that vegetarianism is unscriptural? Not at all. Just because we have permission to eat meat does not mean we have to.
Decisions regarding diet are a personal choice involving many factors. Individual health issues, family history, and the advice of a personal physician may dictate the desirability of vegetarianism for some people, and personal preferences are perfectly legitimate. The best choice for one person may not be the best choice for another.
Beyond the biblical prohibitions against gluttony—which apply equally to any diet—the meat versus veggies choice is simply not a sin issue. Dietary choice should not become a test of orthodoxy for the Christian. God’s instructions in Romans 14:2–3, 15–17 do give us liberty in this matter but command us to be gracious to those who choose a different path. Those verses not only tell us that dietary choice is not a matter of personal holiness but also remind us not to be distracted from the gospel of Christ.
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